Sectioned discourse - an experiment

(etewiah) #1

So here is what I’ve been experimenting with over xmas. I’ve modified my existing discourse forum at to allow people to have partitioned areas where they create topics.
Right now it is just a different way of representing categories. If you go to any subdomain of which is not associated with a category, you can claim that subdomain and start creating topics there.
Eventually, I aim to make it a bit more sophisticated but I just wanted to get something out there quickly so I could start getting some feedback. Please have a look and tell me what you think:



(etewiah) #2

I suppose I should explain a bit about my thinking behind doing that.

I’ve seen a few posts in this forum in which people are asking for ways to have areas within their discourse instance that do something different. I see this experiment as a starting point to this.

As an example, someone might want to have a space on an existing forum that has different branding and authorisation to the rest of the site. I am interested in figuring out ways I could achieve this. Having separate subdomains gives me quite a bit of flexibility in trying to achieve this.

I appreciate that discourse was probably not conceived of as a way to do this. I remember @codinghorror saying somewhere that discourse was aiming to create that well lit neighbourhood with no broken windows where people felt attracted to come to for civilised conversations. To carry on with that metaphor, I guess what I’m trying to do is to figure out a way to let people create rooms in any neighbourhood where good conversation can be had. Rather than clean a communal area for all, I want people to have their own rooms which they manage themselves :wink: If a particular room gains a good reputation, it will attract more people.

Okay, thats all a bit abstract and airy-fairy. How might that work in practice? A simple solution could be to allow people to create a passphrase for any subdomain/room they create. That saves me the trouble of creating and managing groups.

Another thing I’m considering is to allow people to deploy different ember js apps to different subdomains. These apps could be quite lightweight as they only need to be able to read and write topics and posts.

I’ll try out some of these ideas over the coming days and weeks - updates will be posted here.

BTW, the google maps experiment that I previously hosted at hasn’t been killed off :wink:

Its been moved to . I will get back to working on it later when I get some time.

(Jeff Atwood) #3

I feel like I am not smart enough to understand what this is for…? Can you point to any live examples on the Internet of such a thing?

(Scott Trager) #4

Hi Jeff - I THINK he is going for something like a or a … they are for super-beginners with no programming knowledge, but who want to start a (usually very small) community.

(Jeff Atwood) #5

Maybe, problem is those are extremely low value “free” content ghettos. :frowning:

So the track record there is pretty bad – why would anyone want more of that?

(Scott Trager) #6

You could have said the same thing about most traditional forums at one point too… If done right, I could see a use for it…

Pretend you are Father McNoname of the Alabama Church of Somethingorother. You have a thriving congregation who you want to be able to communicate and share their views and stories with others of the faith. So you go online and you find a simple, easy to use “internet thingamagie” that’s free (at least at the basic level) and easy to set up. Bada bing, bada bang you have your very own forum in a few hours or days instead of a few weeks or months- if it takes off you might migrate over to a full discourse, if it fails than you didn’t lose much investment.

(Jeff Atwood) #7

At ForumCon, several people who run low cost or free “forum” hosting, told me – with thousand yard dead man stares in their eyes, the kind you see in Vietnam veterans and people who have seen unspeakable horrors – that the “free” hosting business was awful.

I have no reason to believe otherwise.

And the data, content, and track records of these URLs (can you point to anything on those URL domains that you’d be proud of) , does not lead me to believe otherwise, either… it’s like a race to the bottom where you start at the bottom and they hand you a shovel at the starting line.

(etewiah) #8

ha haa, I suspected @codinghorror wouldn’t be a big fan of this but thats the beauty of open source - people can take it in directions that might not have been anticipated at the beginning.

The problem of too many people using or abusing a website I’ve created is not one I’ve had to deal with and I kind of look forward to. Its quite possible at that moment I will look back and think how right @codinghorror was but not trying stuff because other people think it won’t work is a bit boring :wink: I’m that guy at the ATM queue who gets told by everyone before him that the machine is bust but still goes ahead and sticks his card in just to see the message for himself…

@strager gets exactly how I’m thinking. I think there are a lot of people who would like to try out running a micro-forum without too much ceremony. This guy seemed to want something like that and was actually the one who got me thinking about this:

If I’d been able to offer him a quick way to try out discourse, he may well have been willing to go for the full blown product later on.

Any closer to convincing you its worth a shot @codinghorror ?

(Jeff Atwood) #9

I think it is a fine idea, there is zero business future in it though. Just looking at the sites that do this is… depressing. The data tells the story.

Definitely interested in making it easier to set up Discourse, of course, but more through wizards that walk you through naming your site, settings, inviting people, publicizing your site, etcetera.

edit: and also importers! much better, easier importers to move from vBulletin, phpBB etc to Discourse. That is more and more important to us over time.

(Erlend Sogge Heggen) #10

I’ve not missed “free forum hosting” one bit ever since I last laid hands on it about 10 years ago (free PHP-Nuke 4ever!), but niche community hosting on the other hand, that’s something I’d love to see Discourse get more cozy with.

And I don’t mean niche as in “Board Games”. I mean niche-niche like “that free board game me and a friend made out of photo paper and clay”. Forums within forums, which can equate to a category, a tag, some special attachment or merely a frequently recurring topic.

Some quick examples:

Most micro-forums on these types of sites will never represent more than a short but fun adventure that eventually came to an end. Yet a select few will grow to the point where they become the first and only stop for many of the overarching site’s visitors. A good forum should be built to effectively scale with this growth, and ultimately allow what started out as a mere twig-of-a-branch to break off entirely and start a stand-alone community of its own.

I appreciate any kind of experiment that explores the concept of “sectioning” (e.g. by linked multisites), since I believe the degree to (or type of) which you want it will vary greatly between communities. Tags will also play a big part here, which I intend to elaborate on at a later date.

(mountain) #11

I agree with all of this. This is detailed in the book Buzzing Communities, which is a book I fully recommend for any serious forum administrators and community maintainers.

In short, it is a good idea to nurture a community within a community. The group feature of Discourse can be utilized for this in conjunction with a category for it and category-specific (and group-specific) moderators.

Replying to single post not registering?
(etewiah) #12

Interesting thoughts @erlend_sh . The important points you make for me are that a) micro-forums can be throw away things and b) that how they are used will vary greatly.

I agree with both because I am very opposed to Discourse as software that tries to dictate how it is used. But I also understand that it will ( and perhaps should ) be steered in a certain direction by its creators. The best outcome is for the community to take it in the different directions they are interested in.

There are many discussions on this forum about default settings and UI details which I try to stay out of - not because I don’t find them relevant but because as a community I think we should be experimenting more and tinkering more and asking for less changes ‘from above’

If people create micro-forums on klavado which are super-niche and get discarded after a while, thats fine. What I want to figure out is the least-cost way to enable this while giving value to others. Hope that makes sense.

Tags certainly become even more important as discussions become even more niche. They will feature in sectioned discourse once I’ve got the basics out of the way.

BTW, I do aim to share the code I create its just that at the moment its pretty hacky and has hardcoded references to my domain. Don’t clone it and expect it to work but if you are curious to see what I’m doing, you can look here:

(etewiah) #13

Right, I’m really going crazy on the experimentations now :wink:

This is the new thing I’m working on now:

You can read about all the details on the github page but the short explanation is that it is the simplest simplest implementation of an ember front-end for discourse. It could be quite a wait for the main Discourse project to move to ember-cli and in my impatience I decided to find out how hard it would be to create the most basic discourse front-end from scratch using ember-cli.

Its no work of art but I think it could be useful for beginners who want a simple codebase they can understand to start with. It should be easy to fork and improve. And here is a bonus for anyone who does that. Just tell me where your improved fork of my template is and I will deploy it to a subdomain of for you!!

Feedback will be appreciated but please don’t be too critical about how simple it is - that is a feature not a bug :wink:

(Scott Trager) #14

I think I found a bug! It’s too simple! :smiling_imp:

(etewiah) #15

Good point. Looking forward to a pull request to fix that :wink:

(Sam Saffron) #16

just tried this out and getting " Sorry, there has been an error. Please try again later."

(etewiah) #17

Hey @sam, thanks for pointing that out. I’ve seen what the problem is and will try to have a fix within the next hour or so. I will update this thread as soon as its ready.

(etewiah) #18

Okay, so that bug has been fixed.

I’m moving fast and breaking a lot of things on this because it is a ‘proof of concept’ more than anything else so I hope people with bear with me on this.

The idea this topic started of with was to allow people to have their own subdomains on my Discourse server which used a slightly modified version of the standard Discourse ember client. I have since moved on from the original idea to develop an independent minimal (very minimal at the moment) ember-cli client which I’m calling ‘Discette’.

Since this is pretty different from the original idea, I have created a new topic for this:

(Bcguy) #19

While I agree with Jeff that the specific direction that this experiment perhaps isn’t too high a value - I do see value in the ability to split up the forums.

I’m right now in the situation where I’ve got a very busy forum with 150,000 posts in the past year but the issue is that there are really two different and quite separate groups of users and interests (in my case its a medical site - many users are the patients, and then another group which is the caretakers) and the caretakers want to discuss different topics (that may offend the patients) so its causing major issues.

When I started with Discourse I didn’t realize that the architecture of the forums is very different than traditional forums - (I moved from Jive Forums) - so while you create different categories - they tend to flow together as soon as someone clicks on the top forum home button - which removes the categories.

So - I’m soon going to need to duplicate the user database - and do a new instance of Discourse just to handle the split of the forums. Perhaps this new architecture / experiment that is being done here would help me and allow me to continue on one instance.

(Jeff Atwood) #20

Have you tried making categories the homepage? That would “section” people a lot more.

One of the guidelines we used at Stack Exchange was this – if someone would be offended by the mere presence of the topic on the home page, it means they belong to a fundamentally different audience, and should probably be on a different site among different topics.

So perhaps what you are observing is correct.